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Aesir: Erd Stories

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:01 pm    Post subject: Aesir: Erd Stories Reply with quote

In an effort to avoid spamming the Game thread with my babble, I thought I should move all that to a thread of my own. I'll go back and edit my previous spam to have pointers to here, instead.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Song of the Beginning (1)

<Translated from the Fruspak>

Listen now to the oldest tale!
Listen now to the oldest tale!
Be silent! Be respectful!
Listen now to the oldest tale!

Grandmother chose a husband.
Grandfather (2) was a young man.
And like all young men, he was nervous
About his first night in the clan.

Grandfather built a house
For his wedding night.
Grandfather's house was
Large enough to hold the entire world.

Grandfather made his ceiling blue,(3)
He wanted his new wife to see
Beauty when he took her.
So that the house would be full of life. (4)

Grandfather was mighty(9), for he was young.
In the summer, Grandmother bore a child.
Grandfather was very pleased,
For the child Erd was a boy.

Grandmother was upset.
Grandfather was not her first husband,
And she had born several children before this.
She had expected a girl.

No sooner was Erd put into his cradle,
Than Grandmother was atop her husband.
Her pride had been stung,
And she needed to prove her strength.

Grandmother's shame grew more,
For that winter, Zee was born.
Zee was a girl, as Grandmother had hoped.
But she was too soon, and weak.

All of Grandmothers clan gathered around the child.
They kept her warm, and gave her milk.
All through the cold of winter
And into the warmth of spring they nurtured her.

They spoiled her daughter Zee,
While Erd went almost unnoticed
By all but his father
Who could not attend to the boy.

Grandfather soon left the house,
For he could not stand to see his son
Left to die by the women.
When he could not help.

Grandfather was mighty, for he was young.
Mighty enough to leave his son to grow.
To grow into whatever he would become.
In spite of the shameful pride of Grandmother.

For Grandmother's pride was great.
Her pride drove her to plant out of season.
She birthed a girl,
But Zee was a sickly beast.

For Grandmother's pride was great.
Her pride drove her to keep Zee.
Zee who ate the clan's food.
Zee who gave nothing back.

But Erd did not die, for he was mighty.
Almost as might as his father.
But Erd had one weakness.
He loves his sister.

Everyone in the village loved Zee.
Though she was unworthy of love.
She grew up with people doing things for her.
So she never learned to do for herself.

Erd grew up doing everything for himself.
And Erd also did everything for Zee.
The bigger and stronger he got,
The more he could do for her.

Over the years, Erd grew.
He grew from a boy to a man.
He grew into a great strong man.

Over the years, Zee grew.
She grew from a small weak thing.
She grew into a large weak thing.(10)

In the end, Zee grew so large
That there was no place left for
The rest of the village.
Only Erd remained by her side.

Erd believed that
What was best in life was family.(11)
What was best in life was clan.(11)
What was best in life was loyalty.(11)

But Erd never learned
Learned the harshest lesson of all.
Sometimes, someone must choose.
Choose clan over sister.

But in this Erd was weak.
Too weak to choose well.
Too weak to see that there was a choice.
Too weak to save his clan.

So, all of the clan died.
All the mothers starved because
They gave all their food
To their great useless daughter.

All know it is a Mother's place
To sacrifice for her children.
This is the way of the world,
How the world should be.

All know it is a husband's place
To kill for his clan.
This is the way of the world,
But Erd was too weak.

In the fullness of time,
Zee wanted to take a husband.
There were no mothers to tell her
The ways to lure a man.

So, Erd went to other clans.
He invited the men to join his clan.
But who would join a clan with nothing?
No mothers, no children, no food.

Who would marry a girl
With no mother or aunt
To negotiate for her
To praise her worth as a wife?

Who would marry a girl
When only her brother will say
How beautiful she is
How worthy a wife?

Erd returned alone to his sister
With failure in his heart.
He had no words for her anyway,
But she didn't wait that long.

Like a girl child she cried,
Screamed out her pain and her rage.
Like a girl child she stamped her foot,
And beat her hands against his chest.

And in her tantrum she demanded of him:
"I sent you from here to bring back a husband. And yet the only man who approaches now is you. As you love me, and wish our clan to flourish again, you must fill the role of husband as well as brother."(12)

Erd was too weak to refuse.
That night, he went to her bed.
Better that he had let the clan die,
Than to be both brother and husband.

And though he was weak,
Erd was also mighty.
And though she was useless,
Zee was also a mother.

A child was born to them.
And another after that.
And many others
In their own time.

Now, look around you.
Let your sight take in all.
All of the world.(13)
The sea and the sky and the land.

Look around you, and you will see,
Grandfather's wedding house.
Look above you, and you will see,
Grandfather's blue ceiling.

Look to the shoreline, and you will see,
Where the water rests upon the land
Erd and Zee, still lying together.
He is too weak to throw her off.

Here in Grandfather's house,
Under Grandfather's blue sky,
Erd is the earth.
Zee is the sea.

The earth is below,
Holding the sea's weight.
The sea is above,
Covering Erd with her bulk.

Look how lazy the ocean is.
She never lifts herself very far.
Always flowing to the lowest place.
Always letting her brother hold her up.

Look how petty the ocean is.
Calm some days, fat and lazy
Then raging in a tantrum.
Beating her hands against his chest.

Look how strong the earth is.
Holding the seas up.
And yet rising above them.
When he chooses to.

Look how weak the earth is.
He never chooses to.
As far as we can look,
There is the sea.

Now, look at their children.
Poor wretches that we are.
Yes, we are of their clan.
But they ignore us.

Zee only cares for herself,
Her lazy comfort.
Zee only moves at her whim,
Her petty tantrums.

Erd let his clan die off,
To care for his sister.
Erd let his children alone,
To hold up his sister.

Here we are, the wretches.
We live in the space between Erd and Zee.
We eat from the fish of the sea,
The creatures who crawl in her flesh.

Always we have cared for ourselves.
As our father Erd himself had to do.
But while he was weak,
We are stronger.

We will not let ourselves die,
So that Zee can ignore us.
one day, our mother will die,
So that her children will live.

1. Lit. "First Light of Morning", but we feel that the meaning here is metaphorical.

2. Lit. "Grandmother's Husband". Among the Frusvolk, marriage is a short-lived arrangement, and monogamy was not part of the contract. Descent was only traced through the female line, since it was frequently unknown who a particular child's father was.

3. Frusvolk custom holds that a husband will hang a blue cloth in the ceiling of their lodge on the wedding night, to insure that the women are properly receptive.

4. Lit. "Life where there was no life before". This phrase is used most often to describe the season of Spring. Specifically, it refers to the moment when living things appear in a place where nothing was alive before. The thinking is that during the winter, all plants are dead. And during the Spring, new plants grow from seed (which are considered to be dead). So, there must be a moment when life appears in the lifeless place from an unliving seed. The same term is used when referring to conception of animals and humans, though here the idea is that the sperm is a seed that grows inside the woman and that there must be some moment when life spontaneously appears.(5)

5. It is interesting to note that the Fruspak word for Mother shares the same root as their word for Farmer. Frusvolk belief holds that the seed comes entirely from the father, but that in the process of bearing the child to term and then raising the child(6), the mother molds some of herself into the child. This is why children will have traits of both parents mixed in.

6. Frusvolk children are raised by their Mothers clan, both boys and girls. Husbands always come from other clans, but return to their clans when the marriage ends. Men will assist with training the boys for war, but this is more a group activity. Men have a sport of comparing the exploits of the boys they believe are theirs(7). If a particular boy is thought to be descended from a man, it is considered 'cheating' for the man to be directly involved in teaching that boy. This is because a boy who learns on his own and rises to greatness is a sign that the seed that made him was great. If the father directly teaches the boy, then it is believed that the boy received special treatment, and any greatness he achieves is only because he had help. This brings no pride to the father.

7. The song "Knarls, who came from Syan or Leff" deals with an argument between two old men, Syan and Leff(Cool, who both claim ancestry of Knarls Farqvart (himself a great hero of many stories). They list the qualities of Knarls and argue over why each of them believes himself to be the source of these qualities. The song is sung exclusively by women, to teach their daughters the folly of letting their husbands stay around long enough to see the children grow up, since the two men have done nothing useful all day because they were so busy arguing about Knarls.

8. Syan and Leff are the two most common names among male Frusvolk. This seems to be because the women have a sense of humor, and don't want the men to forget their place.

9. Can also mean "virile", though men are known to shout "I am mighty" after victory in combat.

11. The change to three lines in a verse in unusual here. It is believed that this was done intentionally, because of the jarring effect of stopping a verse at three lines (the last two of which rhyme) when all the previous verses had been four lines (the second and fourth of which rhymed). When the next verse is also three lines, the audience settles into a new rhythm, but the following verse changing back to four lines jars the listeners further. Frusvolk bards suggest that this jarring effect will cause the audience to more fully understand the difference between the two siblings.

10. An unexplained quirk of Frusvolk birthing is that the first two or three children born to a woman are typically male. Any children born after this are typically female. They explain this with the previously stated idea that the child is the seed of the father, but molded by the mother in the womb. Inexperienced women will not be able to mold the male seed into a female, so the first few children will be male. Once they have more experience with birthing, they will give birth to females. Superstition states in order to insure that a child is born female, the mother will avoid looking at the blue cloth during intercourse. For an experienced mother to give birth to a male means that the father's spirit was too strong to be changed by the mother. If the father is known, this is a source of great pride. Likewise, it is a source of shame for the mother. These boys generally grow into great heroes. (We believe this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that the entire clan will treat the child as a great hero through his whole childhood, and inadvertently groom him to greatness.)

11. In Fruspak, there is a single word for "family", "clan", and "loyalty". kandredsmatters lit. "Children of [our] Mothers" When performed properly, the singer of this song will emphasize KANDR in the first line, MATTERS in the second line, and DS in the third. The DS will be over-pronounced in the third line, sounding more like kandr-DES-matters.

12. The first line of this verse is sung as normal. It has the same rhythm and meter as the others. But Zee's quoted words, the only direct quotation in the song, are spoken in a dull flat monotone. The accompanying instruments simply stop at this point. The words do not rhyme, and do not follow the number of beats from other verses. The Bard will pause at this point, and glare sternly around the room, back and forth.

13. Lit. “four islands”
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Part I - The Hunt

Laff Holgasen of the Mammoth Clan eased back into the hot water. He always enjoyed visiting the Shark Clan's island, because of their large hot springs. There were a few springs back on his own island, but they were difficult to get to. Or somebody powerful had claimed them for personal use. But the springs here on the Shark island all fed to a large shallow pool, and it was made available to anyone on the island. The water scalding hot, a welcome relief from the freezing winds that were always present in the world. The springs were popular with visitors from the other islands, which meant that all the young women of THIS island were here scouting for their first husbands. These springs were the only place in the world where you could sit naked and admire dozens of equally naked and available young women, all at once.

And so, as he'd promised himself weeks ago, he did his best to enjoy the afternoon. Some of the young ladies here were only interested in the young men, with barely any beards on them. Boys, really. Still strong in their youth, all energy and enthusiasm, but lacking in skill. And Laff was happy to watch their interest: with both parties playing in the water, like the children they recently were. Young women learning the power of their beauty, here in a place where they can unleash that full power... even as an observer, it was heavenly for him.

But some of the young ladies here were looking for more experienced men. Men who weren't so easily bent to their wiles... men who could give them a challenge. And men who know how to please their partners, not just themselves. A little bit older. Beards full and thick, maybe with a sprinkle of grey but still mostly dark. Men who'd learned a trick or two, who maybe couldn't match the boys' energy, but who could beat them with experience when they needed to.

Laff fell into this second group. He was moderately well known as a bard, even on another clan's island. That didn't hurt his chances at all, he knew. He kept himself fit, and he was glad of that. Most bards past their apprenticeships, spent more time in the drinking houses trading songs and tales for mead. Laff thought that he would hear more news and make more friends by working with the warriors and whaling boats. But it meant that on the few times a year when he got to wear only his own skin, he wasn't ashamed to stand up in the water.

Laff's approach was to sit with his back against the rocks in one of the shallower pools, arms stretched out behind him. He gazed around him at the younger men and women frolicking in the water, no shame in his appreciation. His stance said "I'm confident in myself. I don't need to go chasing after these girls. I'll wait for one brave enough to approach me." But something in his eyes, a hint of a smile maybe, implied that such a brave woman would be very glad she made the attempt.

He knew it was all a game. You weren't chosen to apprentice to a bard if your teacher thinks you don't already play this game well. Only the boys with girls flocked around them were chosen, and Laff had been such a boy. Now, as a man, he enjoyed playing the game very much. He knew these young girls were no match for him, but he wasn't really playing in earnest. He would spot their clumsy attempts at flirtation, and bat them aside gently. He wouldn't hurt their feelings, of course. In this game, after all, the point was to lose. Many boys never learned this game, and they resented it when the women would win. Such boys never married after the first time, because nobody likes being resented. Laff played to lose. And even when he lost to the younger girls, they left the experience with their skills sharpened, ready to defeat the next man.

Laff played to lose, but he would at least make his opponent work to defeat him. Too easy a victory, and it has no value. But a victory hard won, from a plan exactingly laid and carefully executed... that was a night both winner and loser would cherish for some time to come.

But when Nalsine appeared around the rocks, heading for the pools, all of that was forgotten. He stared at her with rapt amazement. Both as a man, since she was easily the most beautiful creature there, and as an expert player of the game. Her beauty wasn't just from her form, though that was certainly flawless. But her grace was mesmerizing. The shift of her hips, from the smooth gait she used to walk past them all. She held her back straight, gaze forward, all power and confidence. Her face was relaxed, with just a hint of a playful smile.

And yet, what really kept his attention was her gamesmanship. All the men there were watching her striding smoothly past them. But only Laff noticed that she was intentionally striding PAST them instead of directly to the pools. Only Laff noticed that her posture also displayed her admittedly amazing breasts; that her confident gaze would intimidate most men and put them on the defensive... a position from which she was assured to win easily. And she made it all look so easy... so natural. It was as if she wasn't even trying.

Laff could tell immediately that no man here was a match for her. They would all be wet clay in her hands, willing to do whatever she asked without even a whimper. And he imagined that such easy conquests would bore her. The message he got from her was that she only wanted to play a serious game, with an expert player. One who would challenge her skills. Anybody else would just be cast aside.

Laff played to lose. He hoped that he would be able to entice her to finish the game, instead of giving up in frustration. It had been quite some time since he'd faced such a formidable opponent. The anticipation of the game was already stronger in him than the anticipation of eventually losing. And by the look of her, when he finally lost, she would be very consoling. Rumor had it that her last husband had returned to his island. He is a great hero of the Sabertooth clan, and had brought great renown to the Shark clan during his tenure. But that was a few months ago; it seems that she was finally back on the hunt now, and Laff was just lucky enough to be on the scene when it happened.

Laff appraised how to make his first move. Her stance and attitude clearly said that she wouldn't approach anybody here. She was a queen and this was her Clan's island. She was no young girl, to go chasing after the boys. Any man who wished to play the game with her would have to make himself vulnerable first. Make the first foray, and expect to be rebuffed.

The true masters of the game could almost speak to each other with the context of move and countermove. His first attempt would be made expecting failure. But there would be a message there, a demonstration that he was at least worthy to keep playing. And couched within her rebuff would be an appraisal of his worth. Her words would say "I'm not interested." but her tone, or her smile would imply that perhaps she was interested in being interested. From there the possibilities were endless. He could play at being hurt, or insulted, or disinterested, or earnest...

When girls had played the game enough to understand that it was a game, and to see that this level of communication was possible, they often grew very excited by that discovery. When they realized that they could communicate through the moves and countermoves, they would send messages just for the joy of doing it, like a child with a new toy. Such girls would often let their opponents know in their rebuffs which approach would work best. Watching Nalsine as she effortlessly sent all the young boys scurrying back to the girls, Laff could tell she wouldn't make things that easy for him. The only message she sent was "If you can't decide for yourself, which approach to take next... you're not worth my time."

After about ten minutes of appraising the situation, considering how to start working his way towards a glorious defeat, Laff stood up from the pool. He wasn't hurried, didn't splash around like a clumsy boy. First he leaned back in a graceful stretch of his own, knowing full well that he also was on display. He'd made sure that Nalsine was facing his direction when he'd stood up. Not once had he noticed her eyes on him, which told him that she'd known exactly where he was and was making a point of not being caught looking. Sloppy poets spoke about women luring with their eyes. The true masters of the game could send an invitation without ever making eye contact.

Then, he slowly made his way out of the pool and across the rocks to his clothes. Without hurry, he wiped himself dry in full view of everyone, then donned his thick pants and boots. Then, still shirtless, hot water still steaming from his chest, he left the springs and walked back to the village.

With any luck, after a few weeks of not avoiding each other at all, they would accidentally meet somewhere and exchange a few words. Perhaps he would ask her to pass him a loaf of bread in a crowded store. Maybe she might ask him to slice her off a bit of whale from the spit, since he was already standing there with the knife in hand. All completely meaningless, of course. Just a facade, behind which they were carefully planning their attacks.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Part II - The Pounce

At around the time of the evening when you start to wonder if it isn't already morning, Laff stumbled out of bed. Moving clumsily in the dark, not knowing the layout of the room, he eventually found the door. Pulling the mammoth skin aside, he was assaulted by a blast of cold air. The light of the full moon on a clear sky hurt his eyes after the pitch darkness of the hut. Still, the chill air brought him fully awake and put more speed in his step. Barefoot and wearing only his best pants, he hopped around to the latrine pit to the side of the dwelling. Watching him try to walk barefoot, and trying not to touch any part of his foot to the frozen ground was almost comical, except there was nobody there to see it.

When he was finished, he repeated his dance back to the hut, and went inside, stopping only to pick up a couple pieces of wood from the pile outside the door. He realized, too late, that he'd have to hold the very cold wood against his very naked chest with one arm, while he lifted the door-skin with his other arm. Knowing as he does, that anticipation only makes things greater, for better or for worse, he quickly squeezed the logs to his side and rushed through the door.

Once inside, he shifted the logs back to his hands, and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He could just make out the dim glow from the remnants of this evenings fire. Yesterday evening, now? There was probably enough there to start these logs ablaze, if he was gentle in coaxing it. And after tonight, he had a new respect for his own ability to coax gently.

Nearly a year had passed since that day in the hot springs. There had been others during that time, of course. Throw-away nights for each of them. Women barely old enough to know the rules of the game. No challenge at all. Enjoyable nights, to be sure, but always his passion had been in circling Nalsine. One of their early encounters had ended when the young man with Nalsine had attempted to punch Laff over some comment he'd misunderstood. Unfortunately, the suitor was so drunk, he ended up striking Laff's paramour instead. Laff and Nalsine both considered that evening a draw.

But eventually, as he'd hoped, he'd lost the war. His consolation was that he would get to lose to her every night. He hadn't expected to get to marry her when he'd started this campaign. He'd expected merely a week of daliance at the end of his path, maybe a month. What he hadn't expected was that once they got past the gamesmanship, he actually quite liked her. At some point, they'd discovered that keeping each other at arms length, while enjoyable in terms of the game, was less enjoyable than simply being in each others' company.

And in the end, they'd dispensed with all the maneuvers and just gotten married. Had it only been last night? The village outside was silent; the silence only found when people have used all their energy and have collapsed. The celebration had been that grand. When a bard marries, you can expect it to be spectacular. Senior bards from all four clans had arrived, vying to outdo each other. Of course, this meant the elders of the four clans also had to attend. Even a mediocre bard could expect to be toasted by the heads of all the clans on his wedding night.

Now that the fire was once again alive in the room, and happily eating away at the logs he'd fed it, he stripped off his best pants and stood naked over the fire to warm up. First one foot, then the other was held too close to the flames, until he felt he wouldn't offend his new wife with cold feet when he climbed back into bed.

One of his less known skills, though one Nalsine praised very much in him, was the ability to climb into bed with a sleeping woman and not wake her. Taking the care to warm himself before climbing into bed was a big part. But also, he'd learned the trick. An arm slid under her head here, a nudge there, and he'd coax his new wife into rolling over and cuddling onto his chest, all without ever waking her up.

And finally, he could relax again. Bladder empty, a beautiful (and warm) woman curled naked around him under the thick warm skins of his new home. He rolled his head to the side and pressed his cheek against the top of her head. She grumbled in her sleep and squeezed him tighter in her arms. He thought to himself, "This is the greatest night of my life."

Then he thought to himself, "Yes. It certainly is."

The first part of himself continued, "And it's only going to get better from here."

The second part of himself replied, "You have no idea how right you are."

The first part stopped cold, "'You'? Why would I think of myself as somebody else?"

The second part of himself replied, "That's a very good question. I should think very carefully about the answer."

The first part thought very carefully. "I'm dreaming, aren't I?"

The second part laughed. "Yes. And no. What I am experiencing now is very like a dream. To be sure, Lliannon Aine is aware of this conversation."

The first part relaxed, since dreams can't really hurt you, "I don't remember being confused in a dream."

The second part laughed again. "That is one way in which this is not at all like a dream. You see, you are asleep. And you are dreaming. But I am not a part of that dream. I am simply talking to you. Whatever else you are experiencing is your own. Dreams are not my domain, and I would not willingly intrude into another's function."

The first part stopped relaxing. "Again I referred to myself as 'you'. Why would I do that?"

The second part smiled, then. "Now you are beginning to understand. There are two of us here. And only one of them is Laff Holgasen."

And suddenly, the first part and the second part were two. Like the coming of spring, there was something here when there had not been before. With this understanding of separation, Laff's dream provided imagery to go with the words.

He found himself on the ground, naked and cowering. He wasn't sure why, but he felt like he could lose some part of himself in this encounter, and he understood without knowing why that the loss would hurt more than any pain he'd ever encountered.

Before him stood... himself? Perhaps larger, seeming to be stronger and more steadfast. I... HE was still somehow vague... undefined. The figure made no threatening move, but his very presence... the way that Laff couldn't clearly discern his features even though they were directly in front of him... was unnerving. The figure looked down at himself, then back at Laff. "Do you understand now, Laff Holgasen? That we are apart?"

"Who are you, then? If you're not me, who are you?"

The being that was not Laff smiled again, and grasped his hands together. "Another excellent question. I see now that I chose well. How will you answer that?"

"What? How would I know?"

"Again an excellent question. And the answer is: you wouldn't know."

Starting to lose his fear, from the absurdity of the situation, Laff shot back, "Then I don't know who you are."

"It is not knowledge you possess, Laff Holgasen. But in a way, it is your decision who I am. Yours and everyone else's."

"I don't understand."

"No, you probably don't."

"Why do you look like me? I know you're not."

"Do I? Interesting. As I said, dreams are not my domain. So, while I can speak with you and hear your answers... the specifics of your dream are entirely outside of my control. If I had to guess, I would say that since you briefly thought both of our voices were your own voice, that you created this image of me that looks like you."

"So I control what you are? What you do?"

"Indeed. Though not in the way you mean. But in addition to that, you also seem to have some kind of control over this image that you're attacking to my voice." As the being who was not Laff said this, he slowly changed into the shape of Nalsine. Nalsine blew him a kiss, and Laff snickered.

"Is that amusing?"

"You look like my wife, now. You're dancing a jig."

"I see. Well then, clearly you are more fully entering Lliannon Aine's domain, where I can no longer reach you. Enjoy your dreams, Laff Holgasen. We shall speak more when you are again in my realm."
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Part III - The rest

The next morning, Laff and Nalsine awoke in each other's arms. They lay there quietly for some time. Eventually, they started to move. And in moving, they were reminded of their new condition as husband and wife. Some time later, they could be found once again lying in each other's arms, enjoying the afterglow.

But eventually, the world intruded again into their awareness. With a mutter of "I haven't had anything to drink since the last time I had to get up..." Laff climbed out of bed again. Grabbing his pants again from the floor, he donned them quickly and quickstepped across the cold stones to the outhouse. The sun was well into the morning by this point, so the ground was no longer as cold, but after the heat of his wedding bed, he had no desire to linger here by the privy.

As quick as he was, his new wife was fully dressed and lifting the door-skin before he'd returned to the hut. She smiled at him as she stepped into the street, then stopped to kiss him. This took longer than she'd intended, but eventually she broke the kiss and walked off down the path back to the village. From the heat of the kiss, Laff had half assumed they'd be going back inside for another bout, but knew she had duties to the clan.

So, he went inside to get more fully dressed, and came out into the yard. Turning to look around, he noticed again the amazing view from Nalsine's hut. From here, you could see down the slope of the hill to the ocean below. Mother Zee was calm today, and Grandfather's ceiling was clearly visible in the distance above. But he could also see two of the three other islands from here, just at the edge of sight on the horizon. He knew that if he climbed to the top of the hill, he could see all three of them. His own island of the Mammoth Clan was blocked by the bulk of the hill here, but closer than the other two.

Laff wandered up the hill to the peak, though it was a very gentle hill and covered with grass where the mammoths would sometimes eat. There was a rock near the top that was just perfect for sitting and enjoying the view. Nalsine's mothers and grandmothers, and all of their various husbands had enjoyed the view from that rock for generations. Centuries of backsides had worn the rock to a very comfortable shape, and Laff took advantage of it now.

Laff's mind started wandering, and soon he caught himself staring at the clear blue sky and thinking of the old tale. He glanced down to the three islands he could see, plus the fourth island he was currently on, and wondered about the shape of the world.

Mother Zee extends on forever. Father Erd must also extend forever, though I can't see more of him than these four limbs that he thrusts up above Zee.

"Excellent, Laff Holgasen. I knew you would come around to the right answer eventually."

Laff spun around quickly, having not seen anyone when he'd walked up the big empty hillside. There was nobody there, though.

"I am not behind you, Laff Holgasen. I am beneath you."

"Am I dreaming again?" asked Laff, starting to relax.

"Not at all. At the moment, you are completely in my realm. Now, be quiet for a while. There is much I must tell you, though most of it will probably not make sense to you right away. So we do not have time for questions and answers."

Laff opened his mouth to speak, "B..."

"Yes, I'm sure you will ask questions anyway."

Laff closed his mouth again. "You're Erd, aren't you?"

"I am now. I was not always Erd, but... then, I wasn't really anything at all. At some point, in the Spring of my existence, there was enough of me to actually be something. I needed something to be, and Erd was a suitable shape. So I became Erd. Soon, I will always have been Erd."

"I don't understand. Erd and Zee are from our oldest tale. They're ancient. Ancient as this rock, which is old enough to have seen 20 generations of backsides pressed against it."

"This is all true. And yet it is not. Erd and Zee are ideas. Ideas you and your people have had for quite some time. Perhaps there were ancient beings who actually did those things. And perhaps the story has changed over the centuries, so that what those beings did was nothing like the tale you tell today. And maybe those tales are the deluded ramblings of a half-starved man who washed ashore on some frozen island in the middle of a storm, after being afloat for weeks. The truth of the thing doesn't matter much anymore. What matters now is the idea that remains. The idea that is bigger than the people who have it. And when there are enough people with the same idea, the idea can take on a form, and a life of its own."

"Do you mean some nightmare will leap out of my head, if enough people believe in it?"

"That is not at all what I mean, though perhaps it also is true. When you meat your first vampire, you will know the truth of this. But, there isn’t time to explain all of this, nor does it really matter anyway. Accept that I am Erd, and I will continue to be Erd until I die. I am the Erd from your oldest tale, though at the same time, I will not always behave as you would expect that Erd to behave. Diana, whom you call my sister Zee, is gone now. Your people will again have a father to watch over you. I will teach you and lead you. Our clan will spread to the farthest reaches of the world, which is all under my dominion.”

“What is needed now is for you to go out among the people and speak to them of me. Tell them that I have returned. Tell them that Zee is gone, and that I will no longer ignore them. They will probably not believe you, but I will provide a sign that none may doubt.”

Laff put his head in his hands. “My wife will think I’m crazy. I just got married yesterday… don’t make her divorce me after only one day.”
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Laff wandered into the village, and strolled to the drinking hall. The sun was just reaching it's highest point in the sky, which meant that after the festivities last night, people were just starting to wake up and go about their business. He didn't expect the hall to even be open this soon, since most of the village would be trying very hard NOT to think of mead right now.

To his surprise, there were several whalers of the Shark clan already there. As he got closer, he realized that all of them had been at the wedding celebration last night.

"What, you're all at it again? You're stronger men than I!" he called, mischievously hoping to pain them with the volume of his voice.

A few of them turned at the sound, but all were quite jolly. "Again? Ha! Still. That's the secret... stay drunk as long as you can, to avoid the pain. Only the REAL men have the fortitude to stay awake long enough to really do it, though." This was Ulaf the younger, who had been born to the Shark clan and was currently unmarried. Ulaf the elder had been born to the Mammoth clan, but was married to a Shark woman when the younger had come of age. He'd been gone from this island for almost 10 years, except for brief visits to his former clan-mates. But, the "younger" name had stuck with Ulaf all these years, and he liked the elder well enough not to argue the point. "I notice you left off the drinking early, but in this case..." he held up a finger dramatically. Then held it there a bit longer, as he wobbled slightly on his feet. "In this case, I know you were being a real man in other ways. So, no shame falls upon you."

Very Tiny Bjalf leaned forward at this point, "Aye. No shame in leaving behind a table of drunk men to bed that prize. But now that you're here, we can drink a few rounds to the happy occassion." Next to him, Tiny Bjalf lifted his tankard high. "Here's to Laff! May whatever insanity made Nalsine choose him for her bed last a good long while! Lucky bastard!" A round of Ayes and Huzzahs came up from the bar at that, and Boy Bjalf almost fell over backwards while trying to quaff the last of his tankard.

Presumably, several generations ago, there was a single Bjalf on Shark Island. But a couple of the women decided it would be amusing to name their children the same name, and a slew of qualifications had popped up around them. Tall Bjalf, Short Bjalf, Tiny Bjalf, Very Tiny Bjalf, etc. And often, the qualification would stick with a man through old age. Boy Bjalf was the oldest in the group, but at the time of his birth was the first in several years to be given the name. All of the other Bjalfs had been adults by that point, but the name had stayed.

Laff quickly moved to the bar. "Pour me a bit o' that. I'll drink to that toast gladly." Tankard in hand, hand in the air, "May she not realize her mistake for a good long while!" and down the hatch.

As Laff was quaffing, trying to down the entire tankard in one go, Ulaf stumbled into him, nocking the tankard away from his mouth so that the rest spilled down over his chest. "Now you smell like one of us, even if you can still walk straight." he laughed.

Laff spent the next few hours returning to the pleasantly warm place he hadn't gotten to visit last night, since he had other matters to attend to. But eventually, his thoughts came around again to his conversation with Father Erd. This, of course, brought his cheerful mood down a bit. Only Ulaf the Younger was left with him, and he was drifting closer and closer to sobriety and hangover as the day moved into twilight.

"Ulaf. You ever think about Erd?"

"What? Erd? You *MUST* be a lightweight, if you're getting all philosophical on me now."

"Ha! I'm a bard, man. I'm philosophical even when I'm stone sober. But answer the question."

Ulaf chuckled, "Fair enough. That's your own foolishness asking, not the mead. But you should know... all whalers revere Erd. We climb into tiny things made of animal skins and bob our way across the skin of the hateful Zee, so we can kill her parasites and bring them back home before she kills us on a whim. Seeing one of Erd's limbs on the horizon is the greatest sight a man can see, and we thank him out loud every time we step ashore. But you know all that; you've come whaling with us."

"Yeah. But... do you really mean that? Do you really believe that Erd is there? That we live on his uplifted hands and knees? Is that great blue up there REALLY the ceiling of some insanely huge wedding bed? Or is that all just stories? Are your thanks to Erd the man, or just words that everybody uses because everybody else uses them too?"

"Are you sure you're not drunk? I think I'm getting too sober to talk about this." Ulaf stood up and walked around to the store room where the fresh kegs of mead were kept. As he walked back into the room with another barrel under his arm, he looked down at his feet. "I didn't stumble once while carrying this in here. Now I know I'm too sober."

Once the new keg had been tapped, and fresh tankards filled, drained, and filled again, Ulaf held up bold finger. "That's better. Now, where was I? Oh yes... Erd. So, sometimes, especially after getting stuck out too long in a bad storm, when the waves are taller than the boat we're in, and we couldn't see our islands if we were right up on them... sometimes, we'll make it to shore anyway. And at those moments, you can feel... something. I don't know what it is, but all of us have felt it, and there's no doubt that somebody's hand was guarding us. It could only be Erd, guiding us back to his safe embrace."

"So, you don't think he's turned away from us entirely?"

"Absolutely not!" Ulaf almost shouted, pounding his nearly empty tankard on the table. They both looked at the splash of mead on the table, then calmly filled tankards again. "Absolutely not. I don't think he can spare us a lot of attention, with Zee taking up most of it. But he knows we're here, and he reaches out to us in times of need."

"What if Zee died? If Erd could devote his full attention to us? Do you think the Four Islands would welcome him? Or rage against him for ignoring us so long?"

"If I didn't know better, I'd say you had a purpose to these questions." Ulaf winked at him. "I think it would depend on the people. Whalers have felt his guarding hand all along. We'd thank him to his face for what he's already done for us. I imagine the mammoth herders would thank him as well. But really... when has a child EVER been owed anything by his father? We're all his children, in a way... why should we expect anything from him? Our mother owes us love and care until we can make our own way, and she's certainly failed at that. But we seem to be doing well for ourselves. We, as a people, can create perfection like your new wife. So, what's to resent?"

"Yes... I see your point. Then let's thank Erd for how amazing his daughters are, and how thankful we are to get to bed them." And soon, another keg was emptied.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One month later, under another full moon, on another clear night, Laff stood in front of the Shark clan, plus the gathered elders of the other three clans again. Another tankard held in his hand as he looked out across the people in front of him.

"Folk of my new Shark Clan, and folk of the other lesser clans," Laff started, only to be drowned out by good natured jeers from the Mammoth, Orca, and Sabertooth clans.

One loud voice in the Mammoth section could be clearly heard "You'll not call Mammoth lesser when that wife of yours comes to her senses and sends you crawling back to us in shame, Laff."

"True, Uncle. But for now, I'll curry the woman's favor by flattering her clan. And I'll thank you not to spoil it for me out of your own jealousy that you could never land one as grand as she." The man raised his hands in deafeat, to the roar of laughter from the gathered crowd. "But, even if the unthinkable were true, this one sent me back to Mammoth Island today, there would be no shame in it. For... the lady is quickened with my child!" The crowd jeered at that.

"No, hear me out. Even in the light of this full moon, you can see that she swells with child." Laff gestured to Nalsine, who obligingly stood up and lifted her shift and turned side to side, with a soft smile on her face.

"How do you know it's yours, Laff? You're no warrior to keep one such as that held prisoner for a full month."

"Uncle, there's no need to force a woman to anything. I just followed here everywhere she went, with sad kitten eyes. I can guarantee that no man has touched her since our wedding night, or even several weeks before then. What you see growing there could only be mine." More good-natured jeers could be heard to this. "But, we're here to celebrate another child of the Shark Clan, not how great my own manhood is. THAT will be proved in the fullness of time, when my son here grows to a great hero of the Four Islands." More jeers, but a few cheers as well. Mostly from the Mammoth area.

"And, I have something important I need to speak of." He looks towards his uncle, and points directly at him, "And no interruptions until I'm done speaking. I invoke my right as a bard to speak my words."

"You all know the Oldest Tale, of Erd and Zee in Grandmother's Husband's house. Those of you who travel across Zee can attest to having felt Erd's guarding arm in the darkest hours of the storms. And some of you have felt a difference in Zee, as well. Something there is missing. The storms these past few months have been fewer, and shorter when they come. Oftentimes, the waves seem to miss us entirely, when before, they would seem to aim directly for a boat of whalers." Murmers of assent came from the whalers present, and all knew the Shark Clan had the best whalers on the four islands. "I know why that is."

Laff looked around at the silent attention of all those before him. He glanced to his side, where his newly pregnant wife was staring at him. Surely she must be wishing there were some way the child wasn't his, for insanity is known to travel from father to child. Laff gulped nervously. It's too late to quit, now. The only way to prove I'm NOT insane is to prove that I'm right.

"Mother Zee is dead. Her spirit has left this body that holds us to these islands. All that remains is the corpse, but there is no direction in it... no malice anymore. And with her leaving, Erd has given his attention to us again."

Tibor, the seniormost bard present rose from his seat at the Orca table. "Laff. Bard's right doesn't extend to crazy fancies. How do you know this to be true?"

He... he didn't assume I was crazy. He's willing to believe me. Now we find out if Erd was really talking to me all this time, or if I really am crazy.

"Tibor... everyone. Look behind me to the waters from here to Orca and Sabertooth islands. If I'm not insane, you will see proof. And if you see nothing... perhaps it's time for Nalsine to send me back to Mammoth Island after all."

The entire crowd shifted their attention to the stretch of clear water. On a cloudless night, with a full moon, they could all see the glimmer of the smooth stretch of water. And they could see the pure black bulks of the two islands there, just on the horizon. For a full minute, they all stared silently. Mutters of doubt could be heard from the Sabertooth table, who knew Laff the least and had less reason to trust him.

But before the murmers could spread, the texture of the ripples on the water's surface changed. Instead of being moved by the gentle breeze coming from the South, row after row in an even pattern... the surface became more chaotic, and then a ring started to form in the surface of the water. They could see light coming from the ring, though when the churn became stronger, the light was harder to see through the bubbles. Then, with a great noise... like a quiet hiss, only as loud as any winter gale, something rose up out of the water. This turned out to be only steam, like would be seen at Shark Island's hot springs. The ring grew wider, and the steam more dense. Then another island rose up from the water. Unlike the Four Islands, which were hilly but not mountainous; covered with rolling pastures where the mammoths grazed, this island was simply a cone. The top was glowing, and giving off steam. As the island rose further above the water, the steam began to look different, and a foul smell caused everyone to cover their noses.

Soon, the cone of the island was far taller than any of the original four, though the base was much smaller. It stopped rising above the water, though two small caves on the face towards Shark Island began to glow as well. Glowing orange water seemed to flow out of the caves, though it didn't roll down the face of the mountain like one would expect of water. The caved filled up, and slowly took on the aspect of eyes in a face. A larger cave below them took on the aspect of a mouth, and could be seen to move somewhat, also defying ones expectations of stone.

Below the hiss of steam and other gasses coming from the surface of the island, a deep sound could be heard... perhaps it could only be felt. All of the people on the Four Islands could feel the sound in their feet, in their guts, and in their lungs. They could hear the voice of Erd echoing in their heads, though some of the bards who knew about the subtlty of sounds would swear that this was really the ground shaking in such a way as to make their skulls echo... that no sound passed through the air from the mountain. Debates will extend for years to come about how the hissing of the water and the crashing of the waves of displaced water were far too loud for clear speach to be heard... and how a few of them noticed that the voice and the water hiss did not compete at all, thus proving that the voice was not sound at all. Erd and Laff remain silent on the matter, and the old ones seem to enjoy the argument more than knowing the answer.


From that day forward, there was a fifth island in the world of the Four Islands. It has become known as Erd's Head, since the original four islands are said to be Erd's two hands and his two knees. It was thought that Erd lay on his back beneath Zee's overwhelming weight, with his feet braced against the surface of the bed, knees and hands in the air while Zee rode him for her pleasure. Now he has raised his head up through the mass of her remains so that he may look upon his children again.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ulaf the Younger came out of his hut, shortly after sunrise. Knowing that his boat would be leaving this morning for another whaling run, he'd refrained from drinking these past few days. He'd always found it easy to wake with the sun when he was sober. And when he'd been drinking, claimed this as proof of why sobriety should be a crime. But, it had only taken him one whaling trip hung over to realize that nausea and waves did not go well together. The others on his boat suggested that his was the best whaling group because they could go the longest and farthest of anyone. When he wasn't around, they suggested that this was because he would rather risk dying than have to go stay sober. So he pushed them all to do more in a single trip, in order not to have to go out again soon. He scoffed when he heard such comments, but secretly he knew them to be correct. If he was going to have to endure several contiguous days of sobriety, by Erd's left nut, he'd do it as infrequently as possible.

He'd been thinking a lot of Erd and Zee, recently. Laff's questions over breakfast a couple months ago had gotten him started. Thinking about things that didn't normally come to his mind, but Laff's seriousness when he'd asked had made him consider them in more depth. The revelation of Erd's Head had made things much clearer, of course. Now EVERYBODY was thinking about Erd, and talking about him, and speculating about him. Ulaf knew this much. When he was out on what he now knew to be Zee's bloated corpse, he was always painfully sober. Things were so clear, and in their clearness they were all very... stark. There was no beauty out on the water, just cold dark grey below and Grandfather's blue above. There was always worry that they'd find no whales, and fear that if they did find one, someone might get injured or killed in the catching of it. A few years ago, after they'd taken a cow after a few days at sea, the cow's calf had surfaced next to the corpse of the mother. Nobody had seen the calf before then, or they'd not have taken the cow. It's a horrible thing to kill a mother and leave the child alive. The poor thing had swum next to the corpse of the mother the entire way back to Shark Island. In the end, he'd taken the boat back out and speared the calf as well. It was just circling in the bay, calling for its mother. It would have died anyway, and this way was more merciful.

He'd insisted that the entire whaling group personally dress and butcher the calf, and that they (and only they) eat nothing else except the calf's remains, as a form of penance for the wrong they'd done it. He'd named it Innocence before allowing Bjalf to throw the harpoon. The first drink he had after returning from a whaling trip was always drunk to Innocence's memory. And since then, on every trip out, he feared finding a whale almost as much as he feared not finding one.

That calf had become something of a metaphor for life on the islands, as far as Ulaf was concerned. The mother who was supposed to look after it was simply gone. The calf had followed around the corpse of the mother, hoping for something, but in the end couldn't be saved. All because the world was a harsh and brutal place, and the horrible things in the world happen because the world isn't even aware that you were there. So, he preferred to spend his time drunk. Let the harsh pains of the world be hidden by the fuzzy warm glow of alcohol, since there was nothing he could do about it.

Even in his haze, most of his philosophical thinking had been focused on Zee. How she'd left them alone, to focus on herself. How she'd taken away their father and left them huddled on his outstretched limbs. How she'd made them kill that calf. (He never claimed to be very reasonable when he was on one of his philosophical benders.) But Laff's questions had gotten him to thinking of Erd's side of the story. And then the talking mountain rising out of the ocean... that had been a shock. He'd been thinking of what this would mean to him and his people. So, from drunken rants about how they'd all been done wrong, he was now ranting about all the awesome treasure and gifts that Erd would be giving them. Most of his ideas revolved around staying warm and never having to see the ocean again. But, here he was about to leave Erd's hand to get into a boat of whale skin stretched over whale bones, and paddle miles and miles out over the ocean to kill more whales. It was kind of a disheartening thought... aside from the sight of the mountain in front of him, there was no sign in anybody's life of Erd's presence in the world again. Sure, those who lived closest to the new island were sleeping a bit warmer these days. And the island's presence there seems to have calmed the more treacherous currents between the four original islands.

But, before he would let himself get all morose in his sobriety, he ushered the group into the boat. He noticed the seam along the side of the boat as he did, remembering that they'd used some of Innocence's skin for that patch. He wondered what Innocence would think of being used as part of a device to kill more of its species, as he often did. In the end, he decided once again, that Innocence would rather its death not be wasted. That was the best that he could give the creature, that it wouldn't be meaningless.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Days later, they still hadn't caught anything. A few times, they'd seen whale cresting the waves off in the distance, but by the time they'd paddled over there, they found nothing. They were nearing the last of their supplies, and would have to head back to Shark Island the next morning. This far out from the islands, their best way to get home was to wait for sunrise, and then reckon the islands' location from there. The islanders would light a bonfire of green grass and whale blubber, to send up a column of visible smoke for them to spot around noon. That was usually enough to get them home by sundown. They kept two extra days worth of food and water in the boat, just in case. But they always returned after five days at sea, just to be safe. If a storm came in during that day and blocked their view of the smoke column, they could wander around close to home and never make it. Legends tell of a whaling boat that managed to survive for ten days at sea, by drinking the blood and eating the raw meat of the whale they'd managed to catch before the storm came in. But darker legends also tell of a rescue boat going out after a big storm, only to find the missing whalers within sight of their home island. All of them were dead. Whalers spent only one week out of every three actually working, but none on the islands begrudged them those two weeks. It took that long between trips for any man to be willing to risk death again. The surface of the ocean was so very large, and Erd's limbs were only in that one place. If you missed them, you could keep going and never even know it. Very few whalers lived to old age.

As the sun began to set, Syern nudged Ulaf with his foot. He nodded towards the sun, as it descended onto the ocean. "It's very orange. Looks like a storm coming."

Ulaf glanced over, and grunted. Neither a 'yes' or a 'no'. Sometimes you can't talk about facts, you can only think about what should happen and hope it does happen. And whalers SHOULD come home safe at the end of a hunt. For the next hour, they all sat in the boat staring at the gorgeous colors of the sunset. None were impressed by the beauty of the sight, though. None kept watch for whales, though sundown was a good time to spot whale sign in the distance. There was nothing they could do. No way to take cover from the storm's fury. They could just huddle in their boat, try to keep it from capsizing through the night, which is tricky without light to tell you which way is down. It's easy to tell down when you're standing on still ground. But when you're moving front and back, sliding into the trough of one wave or climbing the side of another... the senses all become confused. And with the clouds covering the moon and the stars, you can only hope for lightning to show you the lay of the waves.

"Boys, you know there's something wrong with the world, when men would WANT there to be lightning crashing over their heads while they're out in a storm."

On the islands, some ancient bard had noticed that lightning would always hit the tallest thing around. And when that was usually the hill or cliff nearby, nobody minded much. Except for the Mammoth herders on those hills, of course. But a whaling boat was generally the tallest thing on the ocean. And a whaling boat trying to survive waves would try very hard to stay on the top of any waves it could, even when there was lightning going off around them. Better to risk the slight chance of being hit, over the almost certain chance that you'll sink under a wave that crests your boat. No islander could swim. Even with full winter skins on, you'd die of the cold in a few minutes if you went into the water. Whalers called that Zee's blessing, that no matter what, they could always choose a quick and painless (numb, even) death by simply jumping in.


The storm had been going strong for a day, now. They'd seen the sunrise, and knew which direction to go to get home. At least to get closer to home. But the winds and the waves were still battering the boat, and they spent their whole time staying afloat. A few hours into the day, though they could at least see the surface by the sun's dim illumination, they could no longer be sure exactly how far along its path they were, and so couldn't find their way home. By late afternoon, the storm had abated. They could even see where the sun was setting to the southwest of them. They did some quick reckoning, and glanced to the west, but the body of the storm was still too deep there. A smoke cloud would be invisible there. But, they split up the rations that were left. Ulaf's guts were so tied up in fear, he almost couldn't eat what he was supposed to. After a few minutes, he looked up and saw that nobody was eating, either.

"Look here, men. I know I'm scared so bad, I'm about ready to piss myself. And if I'd had time all day to drink anything, I might at that. But we have what's in your hands now, plus one more day's worth of food and water. We've eaten nothing all day today, nor all night. Hell, we didn't even SLEEP last night. This is the first calm moment we've had in over a day. We'll use that calm to eat what we can and sleep as much as we can. I can guarantee you that all of our families will be lighting a fire at noon tomorrow to guide us home. They know we have the food to last this long and into tomorrow. There's no reason they won't do it. But if you idiots pass out from starvation, instead of rowing us back to safety, I'll personally let Zee bless you and be done with your wasted weight."

When sundown came again, the colors were much more muted, signaling no storm that direction. All the crew finally relaxed enough to get some food and water in their bellies, before curling up under the waterproof skin pulled tight over the top of the boat. One man, at the bow of the boat was on watch, in case they needed to wake up before the sun to respond to something.

He nudged Ulaf a couple hours after sundown. "Ulaf! Come up here, and tell me what I'm seeing. What I'm hearing."

Ulaf crawled his way to the stern of the boat, really more a large canoe, pointed at both ends, a pulled the skin away from that corner to get above it. "Where are you looking?" The man, Syern again, pointed to the north of them. "It looks like there's an island. Pure black above the reflections on the Zee's skin. And I think I hear waves crashing onto a shore, but... maybe I'm just scared and tired."

Ulaf looked himself. The black place where no light passed was clearly an island, though... the location of the sunset meant this island wasn't where it should be. He couldn't tell which island it was yet, but he could only guess that they'd gotten pushed around A LOT by the wind and waves, and were now coming up on their islands from the far side. With a sigh of relief, he said "Yeah, that's an island. Wake everybody up. Let's row over there now, before another storm hits."
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As they pulled onto the beach, Ulaf felt uneasy. Something wasn't quite right here, though... at the same time, he felt the same sense that Erd's will was being done here. The sense he'd gotten when they'd made it home after storms like the other nights, and woken up in a spot BETWEEN the islands, safe from the harshest winds. Even though his sense of fear was diminishing, something didn't feel right about this island.

"Which island are we on, Syern? I know that we've all seen or stepped foot on every safe landing spot of all four islands, but I don't recognize this."

Syern looked at him, and his eyes opened in terror. He looked back at the shore before them... at the cliffs off to the north and south. Cliffs that reached out into the water and protected this bay from both storms and heavy waves. This bay was as good as any on the four islands, and yet... there were no people here. "What... what's this place?"

Ulaf grunted. "Doesn't matter. It's after dark, we're lost and hungry. Let's just pull in here and wait until morning. Then find the smoke column and head back that way." They dragged the whaling boat ashore, then moved used it as a large tent, so they could huddle under it. Since they were on land, they collected up some brushes and dead tree limbs they found, and started a fire there on the sand. The warmth from that fire would help them sleep better and row harder than anything else they could do at the moment.

In the morning, they were up to the sounds of birds in the rocks. Gulls and peregrines, diving from the cliff faces on either side of the bay. This also was unusual. The Four Islands had gulls and peregrines, but not so many. And nowhere on the islands would there be a bay like this with enough sea life to support them. Off to the edge of the bay, Syern even spotted a stream flowing into the bay. They righted the boat to paddle over to the stream, and filled all their water bottles and the large skins for the reserves. There was no food easily available, but new water would let them survive a bit longer if they didn't find home right away.

Then, they looked to the south, and saw the beginnings of a smoke column rising. It was farther away than any time he'd seen it. But it was there. The skies looked clear today, so they set off again. One man began singing a rowing song, and all the men joined in. Not all bards go to see with the whalers as Laff had. But enough over the years have done so to leave a decent collection of rowing songs. They're usually quite long, with lots of similarity or easily adaptable patterns. They follow a steady beat, with no changes. They're intended for the rowers to get in sync and keep it up for hours if they need to. The song was only sung by one person, with the rest of the rowers just having the occasional "hey" with the chorus. The beauty of them was that their very rhythm itself. Though the beat allowed for a good steady pace of rowing, the words were actually fairly slow themselves. You could make a simple ditty go for longer that way, but the paddlers could interject necessary communication into those gaps without interrupting the song and the crew's pace.

Syern started with "Your wife will welcome me home". Then Ulaf himself sang "The whaler and the shepherdess", about a whaler man who spent his two weeks ashore courting a shepherd woman from a different clan, since only a whaler could take two weeks to follow a shepherd woman out into the fields in order to court her. The end of the song had the woman marrying the whaler, and him becoming a shepherd along with her. "Who would court Zee, when I can stay home with this?" Other songs came later, and they were well into the afternoon but still couldn't see an island. When the sun went down, they could still tell that the column was a long ways off.

"We went in a straight line for a full daylight. There was only one landmark that whole time, and that was our destination. And it's still a long ways off. But I think we can get there tomorrow, if they still light it." He paused, face going white. "They'll still light it, won't they? We're only two days late, now, right?"

Syern gripped his shoulder, "They'll light the fire for five days, just to be sure. And they'll send out rescue boats in 8 directions, to see if they can spot us. Those boats will need the smoke column to get home as well."

Ulaf breathed a sigh of relief, and then continued his thought. "I don't know of ANYBODY... any story... of someone being two days of hard paddling from the islands. The legends say that they did test trips four days out in each direction, and never encountered a thing. But all of the whalers I know would go no more than a single full day out. Anything more than that, and you spend most of your food just paddling to and from, with no time left to catch whales. But here we are, this far out, and we find an island... an island that shouldn't be there."

"Go to sleep, Ulaf. There'll be time tomorrow night to think about this when we're in the drinking house. You do better thinking that way anyway."


As before, they saw the smoke column rise ahead of them. They sang the same songs while paddling away. Out of food, they would be alternately weak from hunger, and strong from desperation. Towards mid-day, they spotted another boat heading their way. They slowed when it came closer, and called out to each other. Ulaf said only "The storm blew us off course, and took up most of a day. But we saw the smoke yesterday morning, and have been coming back ever since. If you've any food, we'd love to have a quick meal before we continue." One of the Bjalfs, this one from Sabertooth Island, threw some pouches across and watched them quickly open them and hand the food around. "Well, if you're all right, other than having been lost, we'll head in and let people know." Those tending the fire would add something to it which would change it to yellow instead of white. This would let the rescue boats know to come in now, instead of waiting until the evening. Black would also tell them to come in, but for a much less celebratory reason.

But a couple hours before sundown, Ulaf's boat pulled into Shark Harbor. They waved at Bjalf and his boat, as it went on to Sabertooth Island. Standing ahead of them was most of the people from the whaling village. 300 people strong, all on the shores. Enough men to lift the boat with the whalers still in it rushed out into the water to help them in. They held the boat still while the whalers debarked into the near freezing knee-high water, then simply picked the boat up and walked it ashore, leaving the whalers to walk their way in. The food they'd gotten from Bjalf had been filling, but they were still too exhausted to really care that others were parking their boat. Those who were married went to their wives. Those who weren't married went to other women, and soon the shores were empty of the crowds. A few men stayed around to clean up the boat, and Ulaf just sat there on the sand, looking out at Erd's head floating in the water.

Laff walked up behind him with a full skin of mead. "After you left, Erd spoke to me of your journey. He said that you would have news for me. News that would change the world. What did you see?"

Ulaf blinked. "He knew it would happen?"

Laff shrugged. "It was on the fifth day out. You'd have come back that evening, but we saw the storm the night before, and all of that day. We knew that you'd have been fighting that, but if you survived would find the smoke column and come back to us the next day. At the end of the day, when the storm cleared, Erd spoke to me. He wouldn't tell me much, but he said that he was watching you. He told me that you'd all survived, but you were way off course. Then he said that you'd see something amazing, and would be back here before sundown today. And he was right about that part. So... what amazing thing did you see?"

"I can't decide if I should be happy that he could keep track of us, or upset that he let us go out there in the first place. What happened to I WILL BE WATCHING OVER YOU, AND GUARDING YOU FROM THE WORLD? Why are we even still GOING out whaling? Why didn’t he stop the storm, or bring us home before it hit?”

Laff sat down next to him then, and took a swig from the mead himself before handing it to Ulaf. “This is going to be one of THOSE conversations, huh?” At Ulaf’s grunt, lips still on the spout of the skin, Laff began. “Erd is the earth. The stone and dirt beneath us. He is strong, but he is not everywhere. Zee was the sea, but she would never act on our behalf, even before she died. Storms, on the other hand… those are just there. Nobody controls those. Erd has power over what is his, and to some extent that includes us, which is why he could even see you, however far out you were. But he has no power over the water or the storm. So, he could do nothing but watch as things happened. And though he’s a god, I could hear the worry in his voice. The worry of an uncle watching his sister’s child standing too close to a mammoth, but knowing its too late to do anything, if the mammoth startles. But when the storm ended, and he assured me that you were all safe, he said that you’d found something amazing. Something he didn’t think you’d find for quite some time, but he’s glad you did find it. Something that will help our people grow eventually. But, smug bastard that he is, he wouldn’t tell me what. He said that that’s your honor, and he wouldn’t take it from you.”

“Honor, you say? It scared me, more than amazed me.”

“It? What was it? Spit it out, man.”

“The first night after the storm, we spotted an island in the distance. We went in closer, but… it wasn’t one of the four… wasn’t one of the five, now. It was as big as the Four Islands. We stayed the night in a closed off bay, with high cliffs on each side. There was a fresh-water spring to one side, so we filled up our water stores there. We saw no people, though. There were plenty of gulls and peregrine there. Plenty of small fish to keep them fed, too. There were trees away from the beach, even. Trees like we have in small places… like we use to make our huts. But this was a whole field of them, instead of a field of grass.”

“Another island? But… all the legends say that there’s nothing else out there; that they’d travelled for 5 days, 10 days in every direction, and seen NOTHING there, just more ocean. How can there be an island two days away, now?”

“I don’t know. You’re the prophet… you tell me.”

Laff smiles at that, and nods. “Just as soon as my new master finishes speaking to me, I’ll pass his words on to you. Hush for a bit, though.” He glances down to the sand between his feet, then stares intently while nodding his head once in a while. Ulaf also glances there, and sees nothing. Maybe… just perhaps… in the shadow of the setting sun, some of those footprints in the sand could maybe look sort of like a face. Not very like a face, but as much as any random clowd looked like a while swimming slowly through the sky.

“Do you remember in the oldest song? Grandmother’s husband, and how the blue sky above us is really his home?” Ulaf nodded that he had, while taking another very long swig of mead. “He has a name. He is called Odin, also the SomeFather. He is Erd’s father, and Zee’s father. When he made his marriage house and moved in with his new wife, he made all that we knew. But later on, he left the house. Erd tells me that… when he left the house, he went somewhere else. That there was somewhere else to go in the first place. So, now that Zee is dead and Erd is again able to act, he spoke to… to Odin. Odin took us all… the four islands, Erd himself, all of Zee that we’d ever known, and moved them into the bigger world where he was.”

Laff spoke the words like he was repeating things someone had told him, but didn’t himself believe. He was retelling the story, and was refusing to think about what it meant. “That bigger world has other islands. One of them is so big, you could walk across them for months, and never run into the ocean. And they are all Erd. But there are also smaller islands as well. So, Erd says that we are no longer the only things in the ocean… that we can now travel across the oceans to these other islands, the big one or the small ones. He says that there are people there, as well. People like us, though not born of Erd and Zee. He says that… there are other gods as well. Erd and Zee were Odin’s children in that one place. In this new place, there are 10 other gods. Zee was there as well. She called herself Diana, but she died everywhere. And… that wasn’t really Zee. I… Erd tells me that I won’t understand how the god there, the goddess of the oceans, was Zee, but wasn’t really Zee. He says that he’s Erd now, and always was Erd. But also was something else, and is something else as well. He’s right… I don’t understand.”

“Anyway… you’ve found Odin’s world, Ulaf. We can go there, when we want to.”
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ulaf stayed in the drinking house for the two weeks after his trip. For most of them, he was barely aware. He drank himself unconscious as quickly as he could that next day, and any time he woke up, he made an effort to drink until he passed out again. His few waking moments were spent so confused and dizzy he could barely find his mug. But somehow, he knew that that was better than thinking. So, for two weeks, he didn't think.

One evening, he woke up to a chill. He'd been lying on the ground, next to a stream outside the village. He was mostly undressed, but dry. "Uh?" he said. "Wut'my doin' here?"

He sat up, then put his hands to his head as the pain began again. "Tha's a mistook... dun do'it 'gain.", he told himself. He looked around and saw that his clothes had been laid out on the banks of the stream to dry, long enough ago that they were dry already. It looked like his chill came from the sun descending below the hills of the island, casting a shadow across him. He'd been warm in a sunbeam until then. Then he glanced away from the hill out to sea. There was the Fifth Island, Erd's Head, just sitting there. He could feel the warmth of the Fires of Erd even this far out, though they weren't up to a good sunbeam all afternoon, it seems.

Ulaf glowered, then stood up. "Dun wanna see you, right now." He put on his mysteriously washed clothes, and started climbing the island, heading towards the sunset and away from the volcano. He knew that he should get back to drinking, but... some hint of a memory told him that he wouldn't be welcome in the drinking house just now. Something about vomiting... or vomiting again... or vomiting onto a fresh keg of mead. So, in the fuzzy logic of someone both hung over and still somewhat drunk, he decided to get up and walk over the hill.

A few hours later, the mead was mostly out of his system. He finished climbing the next hill, which was shorter than the one behind him. The sun setting directly ahead of him was making his headache even worse, but he kept walking on anyway. He could feel the cold of a storm behind him, now that a few hills seperated him from the volcano. Between him and the sun was nothing but a downward slope and eventually the ocean on the back of the island. It was still several miles to the far beach, but he'd at least gotten past the tallest point.

Ulaf held his hand up to cover his eyes. He turned away from the setting sun, and saw the gathering clouds. "What the hell am I doing here? I'll never get back to the village before that storm gets here. Not at night, with clouds covering the stars and moon."

He turned back to the setting sun and looked down the hill. There were some rocks up ahead that might provide him some shelter from the storm. They were in the center of the hillside, so they probably wouldn't be in the path of downhill flowing rainwater. Some of the valleys here could turn into dangerous rivers during heavy storms, and all children were taught to look for the signs of a dry streambed before storms showed up. They looked like shelter from the winds, but were really just a different way to die than exposure.

He moved down the hill to the rocks, and moved around to the lower side. That would protect him from harsher winds, and from any downhill flowing water from the rains. Up close, it was a a large boulder; larger than his own hut back in the village. He thought longingly of his hut, now. So warm. So protected from the rains and the wind. So far from where he was now. There was a crack in the side of the boulder, almost big enough to fit in. He moved closer to inspect it, and noticed something. It was too narrow to fit in, but he realized that the boulder was listening to him. He knew the boulder's Name, and it was the simplest thing to speak the Name and ask the boulder to widen the crack. If he listened, he could tell that the boulder sat atop solid soil through this whole side of the hill, but that the bedrock was below the soil no more than 20 feet. He knew that the soil here was solid, and wouldn't come apart in the rain, but that the soil down the hill further, in the cleft he'd seen earlier, would collapse if there were too much water tonight.

He asked the crack to open around him, then closed off further up, to make a complete covering over his head. He asked the stone behind him to create a seat, as he knew he'd be in this shelter through the night and perhaps longer. He might as well be comfortable. He tested the stone surface, and found that it was a bit chilly and hard on his backside, it was shaped so that it wasn't terribly uncomfortable.

Having attended to his immediate needs, he stepped out from the shelter to watch the last of the sunset, and to see the storm come in from the east.

"How did I...?" he muttered. Eyes darted to the boulder. He sprinted back around to the opening he'd made, and confirmed that it was still there. On inspection, it appeared that his shelter had always been that way. There was no crack through the stone, the top was now sealed shut and as dark as old stone. There was a "natural" hollow in the stone with a bench at the back, and smooth soil going all the way in. There was no grass on the part where he'd asked the stone and soil to move, but otherwise nothing gave away the changed state of things.

And, now that he was focusing again, he could again hear... no... sense the state of the earth around him. The stone hadn't been speaking to him, nor the soil. But all the same, he knew the feel of the area around him, as he knew where his own foot was in the dark. He could sense the stone, and the dirt. The gravel and the rocks. He could sense the large feeling of Erd, all beneath him, all around. He knew nothing of what Erd was thinking, or if Erd had any message for him. But he could now tell that Erd was there. What had been just inanimate rock and dirt was now bathed in the being of something so huge. He went back into his shelter and sat down again.

Before him, the sunset finished, plunging the world into total darkness. The storm hadn't arrived yet, but the clouds running ahead of it covered all the stars. And yet he could sense the stone to his back and his sides, and he knew the shape of the hillside all around him. On a whim, he stood up again and walked out of his shelter. He walked all around the boulder, sometimes reaching a hand out to touch a surface he knew would be there, and then entered the shelter again. He turned and sat on his bench again, all without doubt that it would be there to catch him. When he felt the cold hardness of the rock, he chuckled to himself.

"Hello Father. It's nice to finally meet you."
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ulaf woke in the darkness. Up above, in what he had started calling "the surface world", he could feel the sun's first warming rays on the stone. The summer was just starting, so it would be possible to go shirtless outside, if the sun was out.

"I guess the sky is clear, if I can feel the sun on the stones." he thought. "I don't miss the surface world at all." he realized. In fact, he hadn't been above ground in almost a full season. Shortly after he'd discovered how to listen to Father Erd, Laff had told him that there were others like him. One on each island, in fact. Laff told them that they were the Erd's first step towards helping Erd's children.

Over the next few weeks, they'd gotten used to their new senses, and had started to adjust the surface world to better suit the people. On Mammoth island, they'd started with smaller shelters for the mammoth herders and their herds. On Orca island, they'd changed the shape of the harbors. That provided protection from heavier waves, and a safer place to bring whale carcases up onto the beach. Sabertooth island had adjusted their harbors slightly, but not a lot. Here on Shark Island, their harbor needed no improvements, which had suited Ulaf just fine. The main task for Erd's chosen, or Geomancers, as Laff was calling them, was building the new villages.

The idea of a village was new to them all, to begin with. It had taken Laff over a week to convince the four of them that such a thing was possible... having almost a thousand people, half of an entire clan, living in one place. But once they'd realized that this one place would be a huge cavern beneath the surface of the island, they'd started to believe him.

Erd told them, through Laff, that they could make caves near the harbors, and enlarge them over time to house huge numbers of people. They wouldn't be exposed to the sky or the storms. The same warmth that heated the hot springs would heat the interiors of these villages. In fact, except for the mammoth herders, whalers, and seal hunters, nobody would need to exit the caverns, if they didn't want to. Unless they wanted to travel, of course.

So, for two months, Ulaf had been down in the Shark Island caves. It was slow going, but he'd managed to create some space down there. Not nearly enough to house half the clan, but some few people had moved down into the space. He'd tried to give people their own huts underground. The hardest part was that he had to make tunnels to them all first. And after a time, he'd had to ask some people to leave their huts so he could make tunnels through them to the space behind them. Once he'd realized that he could tunnel above or below, it had opened a lot of opportunities for him. The common space of the village was along one level, with the huts being above or below. That way, he could just keep going further and further back into the rock, then add more and more huts as he did.

In addition to having to learn to think in three dimensions, the people of Shark Island were having to learn how to navigate. Until now, almost all habitation was along the coasts of one of the islands. There were maybe a hundred people living in clusters along with harbors or other protected areas. But all navigation was linear; past one hamlet was the next. Never before had they had options like "turn right at the first tunnel fork, then follow that for six intersections until you get to the large room, then take the fourth tunnel from the left to get to Syern's hut." On more than one occassion, Ulaf had had to use his ability to sense the location of things within the stone to find people wandering lost in the tunnels.

Laff spent most of the season travelling from island to island, visiting the Geomancers as they worked. They had been encountering similar issues, and he shared one's solutions with the next. About a month ago, they'd reached a consensus. Instead of inventing new ways of thinking, they'd simply mirror the layout of each island within the tunnels. So, there would be a cluster of huts all accessible from a large chamber by the entrence to the surface world. That would be the people who lived closest to that harbor. Then a large tunnel would extend from there in a huge ring. That ring would mirror the layout of the surface island, though much smaller. From the ring would be a common chamber for the next cluster of huts, then another large common chamber for the next cluster, etc. It meant that to get from the surface world to some of the clusters, there would be quite a long walk through the main ring tunnel. But the islanders were used to thinking like that... go down to the water and take a boat past four small hamlets to the place you were going.

Laff kept insisting that it was inefficient, and that the people in the rearmost clusters were at a disadvantage, since they had such a long walk to get to the surface. But Byalf from the Orca Island had realized that he could build a tunnel from each cluster to the surface. That way, the people could see the sky when they wanted, and they could bring mammoth meat in from the herders, who could use those tunnel entrences as shelters of their own.

So far, they'd only really gotten a few hamlets each down in the tunnels. Most of their time had been spent building the common chambers, the ring tunnels, and the spokes up to the surface. And that was only for one side of the islands. When Erd had lifted his head above Zee's surface, there had been fire and heat along with it. Those who lived facing Erd's Head were already benefiting from the extra warmth coming from the volcano, so Laff had asked the Geomancers to focus their attentions on the sides of the Four Islands that faced away from Erd's Head. These were the whaling coves, where the whaling groups could get away from the Four Islands to head out to the deep Zee where the larger whales roamed. Laff said that those were the ones least benefiting from Erd's blessings, and most in need of shelter.

Of course, as summer was fast approaching, the plan was for more Geomancers to appear to help the work. By the time winter arrived, it was hoped that the majority of the Clans would be below ground. Nobody left their huts during winter anyway, except for urgent needs. Being below ground would mean that they COULD interact with each other. They would still need to stock up on food through the summer, as they always did.

It had been a busy time, for Ulaf. But much more rewarding than whaling. He hadn't seen the sun or the Zee in months, and it was glorious. A few times, he'd caught himself wandering the tunnels alone without light at all. He could just tell where he was, and could tell where the ground was beneath his feet, where each tunnel opening was ahead of him. At first, after Erd's appearance, he'd doubted. But his faith was strong, these days.

Ulaf rose from his slumber, and started off to the common area. He usually carried a few days of food with him, so he wouldn't have to walk all the way back to the inhabited areas of tunnels to eat. But he was out this morning, and had to head back in. Maybe an hour after sunrise, he got to the hamlet nearest to the harbor, what some were now calling Ulaf'dhaven. His eyes hurt from the lamplight, and he'd realized he hadn't seen light in days. But it was good to hear voices again, he realized. Oceans he could do without, but people he quite liked.

"I haven't had mead in over a month. Perhaps its time I stayed with the people for a little while."

As he approached the gathering in the larger room, he could sense Laff among the people. As Erd's chosen prophet, Laff's presence was clearly noticable well before that of anybody else. Ulaf grinned and hurried ahead. He strode from the tunnel's mouth into the room and bellowed "Nalsine finally come to her senses? Kicked you out at last?"

He saw a pained look cross his friend's face at that. Laff replied "Yes, actually. Thanks for rubbing it in."

"What?" Ulaf's jaw dropped. "It's been only a few months. You two were inseperable. What happened."

"Erd did. I've been gone so much visiting the four islands, we've hardly had any time together. And even when I am home, there's always something going on... some big change to handle... she's not used to having a husband more important than she is."

Ulaf winced at this, finally close enough to embrace Laff closely. "You okay? Was it ugly?"

Laff just squeezed his friend closely for a few moments, then finally broke the embrace. "No, it was peaceful. She's not mad, but newlyweds expect to be the center of attention for a while, and I wasn't able to give that to her. Plus... this season would make marriage impossible."

"What about this season?"

"We're leaving. You and I, we're going to your island."

Ulaf drew back. "You want me to leave the tunnels? I haven't seen the Zee in months... why would I possibly want to go back out there?"

"There are people on that island, Ulaf. We're going to go talk to them. We'll only be on the ocean long enough to get there, then we'll stay on land again. But, I need to bring the story of Erd to them. And, while I'm his chosen, you're the one who can shape the earth. So, you get to come with me. Plus, it's your discovery. You should be there when we go meet the inhabitants."

"We're not done with the tunnels, though. Not nearly enough for the whole clan. If I leave, what happens next?"

Laff nodded. "There will be more after you. Erd will empower others here and on the other islands. They will take up your work when we go. And, as more and more people start to believe in Erd, really believe down to their souls, his power will grow greater. He'll be able to empower more and more, so they can do more and more for us. But for that to happen, we must go out and teach others about Erd."

"But... leave the island? Leave the Four Islands altogether? What's out there? Who will we meet? What are they like?"

"I have no idea. Erd tells me there are people on that island. And yet still more people on... other islands. But I know nothing of them. We'll find out soon, though. I've already spoken to your whaling crew. They'd much rather go visit a new island than hunt whales anyway. We leave next week."
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2009 2:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ulaf stood on the beach by his boat. The whaling group was all there, ready to push the craft into the water. Laff stood next to him, looking concerned. "What do you mean, you're not going? You have to go."

"Laff, old friend, you don't understand. I never even want to SEE the ocean again. I certainly don't want to go out in it again. Even before my awakening, I quietly loathed the water, but now... it's dead to me."

"So?" questioned Laff.

"So? Bastard. Chosen of a god, but you don't understand. Look, I've told you how I can sense the earth around me? I can feel the shape of the stone under the dirt. I can sense the fissure where the water will come to the surface, and shape the tunnels around that. But it's more than just knowing it's there... it's like a feeling of my own self. Close your eyes, and you can feel your hand anyway. You know it's there. That's how this is with me. Being underground is divine, completely surrounded by awareness of the earth around me. Even standing up here on the surface, I can feel what's below me, but above is this big empty place. It's cold and alone. Sort of like old Bjorne used to describe how his arm felt after that Orca bit it off of him."

Ulaf glanced at the water before him. "But even the sky makes sense. My eyes see that it's empty. It's no surprise that it also feels empty to my other sense. This ocean in front of me, though... it's the most disgustingly wrong feeling ever. My eyes tell me there's something there, but my other sense knows there's nothing at all. I can feel the slope of the earth under the water, as it drops away from the island. It's wrong. I can't make my mind accept it."

Laff nodded gravely, and put his arm around Ulaf's shoulders. "We have to go, though. We need to get to that island, before the season changes. You know this. Erd told me this would be hard for you, though... now I understand more as to how it's hard. But it needs to be done."

Ulaf's face showed that he was still not comfortable with this, but he knew Laff was right. It had to be done. "At least there's no storms coming."


Fourteen days later, Sjern spotted something on the horizon. The skies had been clear the whole time, and they'd kept track of the sun and the starts to make sure they hadn't been turned around. So they knew they were far to the north of the Five Islands, but not how far. Navigation had never been invented, since there only existed the four closely grouped islands. But they could tell North and South well enough. Two hours after leaving, Ulaf started crying.

"It's gone, Laff. We're so far above the earth now, I can't feel it at all."

On the second day, he would no longer respond to them. He would eat and drink when food or water were put into his mouth, but otherwise he didn't seem to be there anymore. By the thirteenth day, Ulaf had visibly lost weight. They'd made him eat every meal with him, but he ate only a small amount each time. Laff had begun to question Erd'd decision at first, until he'd heard Erd's voice quietly in his head one evening.


Laff didn't press the matter, though he still spent most of his time watching Ulaf's face for any signs of improvement.

Sjern's sighting was actually to the west of them. He only saw it because it came between him and the setting sun, and Sjern could see that the horizon wasn't completely flat there. He pointed at it with an excited shout, and the whole boat turned to look.

"Yes, I think that's it." agreed Laff. "Can we get there tonight?"

"I wouldn't want to try to find it in the dark." said Sjern. "What if we miss it and shoot off too far to the west?"

Then, Ulaf sat bolt upright, a hand gripping Sjern's upper arm with a strength none though his deminished frame would have. His eyes focused on the shadow of the island, ignoring the sun's stab from just above it. "No. Head towards it. I'll feel the slope of the earth under the water. We won't miss it."

"Are you sure, Ulaf?" Sjern's worry was clear in his voice.

"I can't stay out here another night. I'll guide us there in total darkness, if I have to. Just get me away from this water while there's something left of my sanity."

Nobody said a word, then. They all reached for paddles and started rowing. Laff took out a small hollow wooden box and a smaller stick. The resonant echo of the box being struck, repeated at a steady pace, soon got the crew rowing as a single person, pushing the boat over the waves. The sun set another fifteen minutes later, leaving them in near total darkness. The sky was clear, so they could see the stars above, but that only showed them pale outlines of each other.

Thirty minutes later, Ulaf sighed in pleasure. "There it is. I can feel it. We're getting closer." After that, the crew knew they would make it to the island safely.

When they pulled the boat into the beach, Ulaf jumped out into neck deep surf. "There, Laff. It's only with my feet, but I'm finally touching earth again. Now, hurry up and get this thing on short and set up camp. I'm going to freeze in these wet clothes." Ulaf start slogging towards shore, stumbling to hands an knees in the shallows and then falling over onto his back above the waterline. He didn't seem to fall onto the sand so much as immerse himself in it, as if he were still in the ocean's water. Sjern later swore he could see the sand seem to climb up around Ulaf's body as it lay there, making a small pile on top of him.


When the sun rose, Asta woke as she normally did. She threw on her sealskin clothes and ran out of her house. Mommy and Daddy would stay asleep for a while yet, but she wanted to see the seals. They had shown up on the southern side of the island a few weeks ago, and would be giving birth to their cubs soon. She was finally old enough to go down to the cliffs herself, though Daddy said she couldn't go down to the rocks at the bottom to play with the cubs. "They look small from up here, but their mommies and daddies don't want you messing with them. Some of the daddies are bigger than you are, honey. You might get hurt." So, Asta contented herself by going to the top of the clifs and watching them from there. Only, they hadn't yet given birth.

As she crept to the edge of the cliff, she saw that the cubs still hadn't arrived. "Phooey!" she muttered, though she stayed around just watching the mommies and daddies. They seemed to be uneasy, she noticed. Something to the west is spooking them a little.

She got up from where she was, wedged between two boulders, and went west along the cliff's top. There were some bushes there, so she had to move away from the cliff to get past them. On the other side, when she poked her head over the edge again, she saw something strange. There were men down there. They looked like men, but they were dressed differently. They had some kind of strange canoe with them. It was easily five times as big as the kayaks her people used. Almost as if all 8 of them had used the one boat. That was just silly, though... everybody knew you could only fit two people in a boat. Mommy and Daddy took her in their kayaks all the time. But that thing down there, it was like they'd just brought a small building with them up out of the water.

Asta ran all the way back to Mommy and Daddy, calling their names the whole time.

"MommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddy <inhale> MommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddy <inhale> MommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddy <inhale> MommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddy <inhale> MommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddy <inhale> MommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddyMommyDaddy <inhale>" She came in the door and jumped onto their bed. She might have smacked her knee into Daddy's belly, but it didn't hurt her very much. Daddy sat straight up, but didn't say anything. Still, this was such an unusual reaction from him that she stopped calling their names for a moment. Mommy turned to Daddy then, winced in sympathy, and then took Asta off of his lap.

"What is it, Asta? Did the cubs finally arrive?"

Her attention back on the seal cubs, Asta frowned. "No, they're still not here. I was really hoping they'd be here this morning, too. Do you think they'll be here tomorrow?"

"Why were you calling us, Asta? If the cubs aren't here yet, what was so important?"

"Oh, right. There's some men down on the beach near the seals. They're funny looking."

"What do you mean 'funny looking'?" asked Mommy? Daddy just rolled over on his side, like he was trying to go back to sleep.

"They had a giant kayak, Mommy."

"Giant? Like a two-seater?"

"No, it was an... uh..." she held up fingers one at a time until there were eight. "A this many seater. And their clothes are funny. Different colors than normal clothes."

Mommy's face got scared for a moment, then. And Daddy rolled back over to climb out of bed again. maybe he wasn't sleeping. He seemed to be limping a bit, but he quickly put on his clothes and then grabbed his hunting spear from by the door as he ran south to the cliffs. A few minutes later, he came jogging back.

"They don't look like raiders, he said. They're just camping on the beach now, but that's no kind of boat I've ever seen. It looks like it's skin over a frame, like our kayaks, but what animal has that much skin?"


Half an hour later, half the men of the village started walking down the trail to the beach where the visitors were camped. A quarter more of them were in kayaks out on the ocean, just cresting the point to the west. The final quarter were cresting the point to the east. All were armed with harpoons, and the men on foot also had machetes. Meant for chopping brush out of the way, but they'd work well enough on a raider if the need presented itself.

The village headman was at the back of those walking. He'd wanted to go first, but the other men had pointed out that with his old knees, it would mean all the able body fighters would be stuck behind him. So, the strong men went first to show their strength, and he came after.

The strangers out on the sand saw them coming, and called to each other. One of them came out from the strange skin covered building and started walking towards them. Another one saw the two groups of men on kayaks, and called a warning. They gathered closer together, but didn't produce weapons. Trying to see past all of the taller (i.e. - less hunched with age, though he'd never admit that out loud) men ahead of him, the headman tried to see what kinds of weapons these strangers had, but couldn't see any.

The kayaks stayed a little ways out from shore, to stop an escape attempt. Dismounting a kayak was a clumsy enough exercise, nobody would attempt it when melee was feared. It left you too vulnerable. And every man out there could impale someone on this beach with a thrown harpoon, without needing to dismount. So, they just stayed there at the breakwater and watched.

The ones on land finished their descent, and spread out quickly. Finally the headman could see past the heads and shoulders of his village to get a good look at the strangers on the beach.

Their clothes were indeed strange. Clearly made of animal skin, they were grey almost blue. They had giant hoods, with the fur of some land animal sewn around the opening. If those were pulled on, it would shield the whole face. In this case, they all had the hoods thrown back behind them. Their skin was palest white, and their hair was the gold of sunlight. Who looks like that?

He glanced around him at the men of his village. All of them were dark skinned, with long black hair. The way people should look.

Then the strangers turned back towards him, having decided the kayakers were no threat. The headman stopped in his tracks. These strangers had that strange yellow hair, as he'd already seen. But it continued down across their faces. He had nothing even to compare this to. They were like some kind of fantastical beasts.

One of them stepped forward, and held up its arms. (The headman couldn't bring himself to think of it as a he or a she... perhaps these were the females of their species?) "Greetings. We mean you no harm." it called out. The things could speak, at least. And that sounded like what a human man's voice would sound like.

"We've heard that before." shouted back the headman. "What do you mean with us then, if not harm?"

Behind him, there were some mutters.

"We mean to get to know you. And we mean for you to get to know us. And in the knowing, perhaps friendship will grow."

"Friendship is a difficult thing, in an age of raiders. Why should we trust you?"

"Raiders? We know nothing of raiders, sir. We've come two weeks journey by sea, from our home islands to the south. You're the first people we've ever met."

"Bah. Now I know you're lying. There are no islands to the south."

The headman's son touched him on the shoulder. "Father, weren't there supposed to be eight of them? I count only seven."

The headman took two angry steps towards the stranger's spokesman. "Where is your eighth man? Trying to sneak up on us and ambush us, I'll wager!"

The yellow haired man made a face. With all that hair in the way, the headman coulnd't tell what emotion was being expressed, but he assumed it was shame at having had his plan found out so quickly.

"Ulaf is right here. He was communing with Erd when you arrived, and didn't want to startle you." The creature turned to an empty section of sand and spoke to it. "Come on out, Ulaf."

Great, now he's talking to empty air. thought the headman. But then, the surface of the sand started to move. Not like someone was under it digging his way out, but like waves flowing back down the beach. The sand just slid to the side, making a pit in the center, and eventually there was a man lying there, with all the sane removed from atop him. The man sat up, and opened his eyes.

"I am Ulaf." he said. Then grinned and gestured to the spokesman, "And this man is Laff, though he has forgotten the manners I know his mother taught him. He should have introduced himself right away." The man stood up, and the sand flowed back into the pit. He held one foot above the ground while the sand flowed into that space, and he put his foot down upon it. Then he stepped up and let the rest of the sand flow in under his other food.

Everyone in the village just stared. Those on the kayaks only saw the man rise from the sand, but the men standing on the beach witnessed the whole thing. Some of the younger men dropped their spears then, though none ran.

"What... how..." said the headman, though he didn't seem to be able to form a full question in his head.

The stranger's spokesman laughed then.

"We've come to speak with you about Erd."
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 03, 2010 2:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"The winters here aren't as cold, it seems." said Ulaf to Laff, one morning over breakfast. "Back home, there would be snowfall by now."

"You're right. Erd sometimes tells me news of our families back home. He said the first snowfall was last week."

"Oh? Any other news?"

Laff chuckled. "He... doesn't understand us the way we think about ourselves. His idea of what's important includes births and deaths, but not marriages or any interesting news. He felt the snow fall on his skin, so that was important. He follows the progress of the tunnels being built, but doesn't know how the people feel about them now that it's getting cold outside."

Ulaf laughed also. "Yup, sounds like a god. Guess that's why he picked you, then? You're so good with people."

"Aye, I guess so."

The two finished their morning meal, here in the inn. It was a strange idea to them, but here was a place where you gave something called "money" to stay in special guest rooms at someone's house. Only it was a house of nothing but guest rooms. There was a drinking hall and kitchen attached, but both of those required this "money" as well.

THAT had taken them a while to take in. That everyone would work for this "money", and then spend it later in trade for things they wanted. It really made trade easier to handle, once you got used to the idea. None of the nine were really sure how much "money" their time was worth, but since the people of the island handled all of the "money" issues themselves, none of the people from Shark Island really had to worry about that. When Ulaff showed them that he could find small pieces of gold in the ground with little effort, they understood why none could really grasp the value of "money". But simply as a means of keeping track of how much value one's work was worth, they didn't choose to argue the point much.

The Innkeeper's wife came out to clear away the table, with a smile on her face. Everyone on the island was making donations to pay for the Blessed of Erd's room and board, and none would listen to her when she told them that she'd already been paid four times over for everything they might cost her. The extra income she made just from selling food and ale to those visiting the Blessed was more than enough to pay for housing and feeding all nine of them. Every night, she prayed to Jove, thanking her for bringing the Blessed to her inn. Still, as much as her family owed to the Blessed for the money they brought, she and all the island owed even more to them for the changes they'd brought over the last season.

They'd built up the island itself in many small, but significant ways. Trecherous paths through the hills, and especially ont he cliffs, were now much safer. Many of the coves around the island had been better enclosed with stone jetees, giving protection to the boats and homes within. Many of the better homes now had cellers below them, dry and cool. She herself kept all of the winter food down there now, and it was keeping much better. There had been talk of going into the seal caves, now that they had migrated back to the mainland, and making them more hospitable for the animals. Perhaps if the caves could support more, there would be more seals for them to hunt later. The Blessed had created bridges over previously dangerous crevaces, and over some of the wider streams. They had found springs that used to pump potable water straight into the ocean, and now route that water where the islanders could drink it.

And through all of this, Laff spoke to the inhabitants of Seal Island. He told them the stories of Erd and Zee. He told them of Grandmother's husband Odin, and how he had joined again with his father's world and brought his children with him. It almost became easy to look past the strange appearance of these men from the south, with their yellow or red hair. Hair which grew on their faces and chests, on their arms and legs. Now, it was simply an easy way to spot them at a distance, instead of a mark of strangeness. Because everybody wanted to spot them. They wandered all across the island, changing the face of the earth as they went, and changing the hearts of the islanders.

Laff looked up at her, as she cleared away the dishes. "That's an interesting necklace. What does that symbol mean?"

"This is the symbol of Jove, Chosen."

"I don't know that word. What does it mean?"

"You don't? Jove is the goddess of Commerce. As Erd is the god of Earth. Do you not have Jove in your islands to the south?"

"Mmmm. No, we do not. Is she a good goddess? Is commerce something you value?"

"Chosen, you have heard us speaking before of money. Jove is the goddess of that. And through her grace, people trading goods for money can end up better off than otherwise. I... I'm not sure of more. Jove is found mainly on the continent. Like Erd, she is new to Troon, and her word hasn't spread everywhere. My family is from a village on the mainland, and my sister's son brought me this on his last visit this past Spring. So I do not know her dogma, though I sense her blessing upon me since your arrival."

Laff seemed thoughtful. "Interesting. Perhaps this is what Erd was talking about? He'd said that when we were done here on Seal Island, we would go to the mainland and there interact with others. At the time, I assumed he meant other people, but... something about how he said it struck me as odd. Perhaps he meant other Gods, instead?"

Thanking the Innkeeper's wife for her information, and the fine meal she'd prepared them, Laff and the other Blessed rose to begin their day.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 03, 2010 3:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ulaf and three of his whaling group, whalers no longer, stood on the northern shore of the island, looking out at all sixteen of the Seal Islanders in their small kayaks, plus Laff and the other four whalers already aboard their larger boat. The three still on land looked worried, while Ulaf seemed almost scared.

Ute, the only female geomancer on the island at the moment, looked at Syern to her right. The sunrise was just revealing the bottom curve of the sun's orb behind his shoulder, and she had to squint. "It can't be that bad, can it?"

Syern responded, "You saw Ulaf on the trip here. I don't think I can do that."

Ulaf himself interrupted, "Children. Listen. You both know I'm no maccho burly man. I wouldn't willingly put myself through that kind of suffering if it were really that bad. I was just milking it so the rest of you would row without me." He laughed then, perhaps just a little bit to gleeful, though the others chose not to notice. "Well, let's get on there. It's only a quick shot to the coast, and it only feels bad when the ground's too far below the waves. You won't be nearly as bad off as I was."

They all nod, and make their way out to the larger whaling boat. Once aboard, the whole flotilla went straight north.

After about an hour, at the same moment, Ulaf, Ute, Syern, and Jesaf all groaned. They stowed their oars slowly, then just curled up where they were. Ute muttered "Ulaf, I'm going to kill you when we get to shore." Laff and the others picked up the slack and the flotilla continued on northward.


The trip to the mainland took them only two days. The kayaks all pulled close to the larger boat, and tied themselves off to it. It was an uncomfortable way to sleep, but they all comforted themselves with the thought that Erd's chosen were even worse off. As soon as the sun had risen, people dug out breakfast and ate it still aboat, then untied from the group and continued north. Mid-afternoon, the four geomancers sat up again, though the shore was still out of sight. By sundown, which was still pretty early in the day, this time of winter, they were on the shore. The Seal Islanders came ashore and started making a real camp for everybody. The geomancers simply walked above the waterline and then sank into the earth to commune with Erd once more. On their way, Ute shoved Ulaf into the surf, though she stopped short of killing him.

The next morning, the twenty-five of them rose and broke their fast. Laff called out to them, and gathered them into circles. Himself in the center, the four geomancers around him, then the twenty others beyond that.

"Now that we're back in Erd's embrace, it is time for the rest of you to fulfill your destiny. Four of those left behind on the island woke up yesterday as geomancers. Their role now is to serve the island in Erd's name. Others will join them eventually, though I suspect not for many months. Just as those left on our four islands to the south are also continuing on without us knowing that help will come at some point, but Erd's attention must be for the rest of Troon."

"So, in a moment, you all will awaken to Erd's true presence. Spend some time getting to know the sensations, and let these four teach you what helped them in the past."

A voice that only Laff could hear shouted wordlessly. It was a shout of blessing, a shout of joy. A shout of a proud parent welcoming his children one step closer to adulthood. And all around the outer circle, gasps of surprise, or just open mouthed shock were expressed.

Ulaf said "Welcome, brothers and sisters. I can feel you around me, as I can feel the stone beneath me. I've never felt so many before." He closed his eyes for a moment. "I could get to like this. It's almost overwhelming, but nice."

The rest of the day was spent exploring their new abilities and new sensations. Ute and one of the Seal Islanders even went off to a tent of their own for a while. When the Islander man came back to the camp stumbling, with Ute nowhere to be seen, a few other pairs went off on their own.

Laff glanced at Ulaf then. "You never told me THAT was better."

"I never tried. I was too busy walking alone in pitch black tunnels. And I think it would only work with one of us anyway.


The next day, everyone returned to their boats, always hugging the shoreline and staying within range of Erd's embrace, continuing northward. They would camp every night on the shore, and after a few weeks of this arrived at their destination.

Laff breathed a big sigh of amazement. "I see miracles every day, but the thing that amazes me is that Erd's statement of the shape of the big island was correct. 'YOU WILL KEEP FACING NORTH AS YOU TRAVEL, UNTIL YOU COME TO A PLACE WHERE THE TWO SHORES BECOME A COVE. THERE YOU WILL FIND A VILLAGE OF PEOPLE. WAIT THERE FOR FOLLOWERS OF JOVE.' he told me. And here it is."

Ulaf nodded. "I wonder what this Jove will be like. The only goddess we know about is Zee... the one they call Diana. I'd not want to worship one such as that. But if this goddess if anything like the Innkeeper, we'll be in grand shape."

The twenty-five of them pulled into shore. One of the Seal Islanders took a large nugget of gold they'd found during their remodelling of the island while the rest stayed by the boats. He came back about an hour later with a bag of coins and several people in tow. "They didn't believe me that so many dared a deep winter crossing to get here." he smiled.

"We'll need somewhere to put our kayaks." he said, with a sad glance. "I'll be staying here, so I'll watch over all the boats until everyone comes back."

They all marched off to stay at the village's inn, hoping it would be big enough to hold them all. "At least there's nobody else foolish enough to be travelling at this time of year, so we'll have the place all to ourselves." said Laff to nobody as they left the beach.
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 21, 2010 7:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gimbutas stood with the others. They stood in the town square of Sanguine, on the continent of Mekoth. This place had been an outdoor shrine to Tepes and his vampire spawn, but now belonged to Serloth Lorekeeper. The signs of Tepes' dominion were still everpresent. Where they stood now, there was a a life sized statue of Lucien la Chance, in perfect gleaming white marble. It loomed over them on a large stone pedestal.

One of the group turned to Gimbutas and asked, "What are we doing here? How can we meet Erd's propet here? Won't he be arriving by ship?"

Another interrupted, "The mists are still strong. No ship could arrive now anyway."

"Then how will this prophet arrive at all, much less to here. We're in Sanguine. There is no more landlocked city on all of Mekoth."

Gimbutas interrupted, "Future prophet."


Gimbutas assumed the role of teacher again, a role to which he was very used. "The one we meet here is only a future prophet of Erd. He is not Erd's current prophet. And he will not speak with Erd's voice when first he arrives. Still, he has been chosen to receive Erd's honor soon, and we will treat him with respect."

All of the others nodded assent, and the discussion was over.

Briefly. "So then, when will he get here?"

Gimbutas cocked his head to the side and listened. "Any moment, now. Watch." He gestured towards the statue. As he did, the statue started to waver. This wasn't a visual illusion, the surface of the statue was actually shifting around. What had been Lucien's face reverted to a bland proto-face for a moment. The carvings of Lucien's eligent clothing also smoothed out, leaving the entire thing as nothing more than a humanoid shape. Then details began to emerge. At first the general outlines of human musculature could be seen, and eventually the statue was that of an idealized muscular man, perfect in every detail. It had no hair, but otherwise was better than any sculpter could ever hope to achieve.

The statue opened its eyes, which were now featureless orbs of red stone.

Gimbutas stepped forward and bowed. "Welcome to Mekoth, new one. Be welcome in the name of Serloth Lorekeeper."

"Thank you for your greeting, and your welcome." The statue stepped from pedestal, stepping heavily onto the flagstones of the town's square, and repeated Gimbutas' bow.

The prophet of Serloth Lorekeeper continued, "Do you have a name? How shall we call you?"

"I... yes. I am a Golem."

"Is that your name, or simply a description?"

"It is both."

"Then welcome, Golem. I am Gimbutas, prophet of Serloth Lorekeeper."

"Gimbutas. I do not yet have a role, but I know that I come from Erd."

"Yes. You are the first follower of Erd in this land. And he was too exhausted by the act of creating you to also be able to speak to you now. Serloth Lorekeeper assures me that Erd's voice will be heard to you in a season's time. In the mean time, you will feel only his touch upon you. As will we all." With that, something changed in them all. As with Ulaf and the others before them, the people gathered there suddenly were aware of things they could not previouly sense.

Golem closed his eyes again, and said out loud "Ah, hello father. I feel you all around me. I will be content with this until I can also hear your voice."
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 17, 2010 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Inevitable marched on. Above them and around them, a dark cloud, partly spiritual, partly physical, dimmed everything. The warriors of Uruk stay back from their advance, knowing full well the death that awaits any who approach.

Then, the chanters of the Inevitable felt a tremor in the ground. Without ceasing their efforts, the chanters began to back away from a shifting in the soil towards the center of their group. Slowly, a giant shape rose from the ground, looking vaguely like a statue of a man. A statue a child might make out of mud, crudely formed and without detail. Soon it towered over the chanters around it, ignoring the darkness in the air.

No further, I say. I do not wish to meddle in the affairs of another God, but this senseless slaughter must stop. In spite of their surprise, none of those around the giant stopped their deadly chanting. So be it.

The tremor in the ground grew stronger. And stronger. The earth for miles around shook and cracked, tearing huge rifts where people fell to their depths, then closing them again just as quickly to grind them into meat. Through it all, the statue stood by, watching the death around him, somehow conveying a sense of sadness though his face wasn't refined enough to have such a nuanced expression.

When it was done, none of the chanters were chanting. Those few who lived were short work for the followers of Uruk who arrived once the ground had stopped shaking. The statue was nowhere to be seen when they arrived, nor even the bodies of most of the Inevitable, who were killed and buried in the same moment.
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